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Injured Cal Rugby Star Has Some Feeling In His Spine

SAN JOSE (CBS SF) -- If there is one thing Jeff Paylor knows about his son Robert it is that he's a fighter.

The Cal Rugby star suffered a serious spinal injury during the national championship game earlier this month and has limited motion in his arms and is paralyzed from the waist down.

To complicate his recovery, Robert Paylor is battling a case of pneumonia that has settled into his damaged chest.

"He's taking it like a warrior," Jeff Paylor said as he stood outside San Jose's Valley Medical Center Wednesday. "Robert contracted pneumonia and it may not still be completely gone. But involved in that is two-hour sessions of excruciating pumping on the rib cage, because he doesn't have the ability to get what he can out. He's enduring a lot."

His father says the 6-foot-5 rugby star is simply focusing on getting better.

"He's a fighter," Jeff Paylor said. "He's goal oriented. He has a never give up attitude. All he talks about is getting into rehabilitation and getting started on his recovery. He doesn't ask why this happened or dwell on what life could be."

On a GoFundMe page, Paylor's family wrote that the Cal sophomore has a 'long road' ahead of him.

"At the point of injury, he just knew his life had taken on a different path and he's accepted that future," the family wrote.

Robert Paylor's doctor -- Dr. Stephen McKenna -- said there have been some optimistic signs during the 20-year-old athlete's recovery.

"Robert's injury is an incomplete injury and the good news about that is he has sensation that goes all the way down to his toes," McKenna said. "We know that signals are making it through the entire spinal cord from the bottom to the top. What we haven't seen yet is the signal go down to the muscles...They (the signals) are not really going down to the level of the hand yet. And they are not going down to the level of the foot."

Doctors at Valley Medical Center surgically implanted a brace to support his damaged spine.

"Every person who has this type of injury has their own journey," said McKenna. "Their own type of recovery from it. I was asked if Robert will be able to walk. At this point, that's a difficult question to answer."

Robert's rugby coach says the team and the Cal community are saddened, but supporting the family. Jeff Paylor said his son's work ethic on and off the athletic field will help him get through this.

"Just knowing that he has that in his soul gives me hope, and I know that he's going to make it," said the proud father.

Paylor was injured in the Golden Bears' title game against Arkansas State at the Penn Mutual Varsity Cup in Santa Clara. Cal won by a 43-13 score to win a second straight rugby 15s national championship.

The 6-foot-5, 233-pounder from El Dorado Hills attended Jesuit High School in Carmichael. He was a starter at the lock position for the Cal rugby squad.

Marlon Blanton, his former coach from Jesuit High School, said Robert isn't one to give up hope.

"[He is] a very good young man of faith. He believes in his faith, a lot," said Blanton. "So I'm sure that will help him and his family get through it. And anything we can do, we will support him in any way we can. We love him and we're praying for him dearly, every day."

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